The Downsides of Live Chat Widgets
Companies like Intercom and Drift use invasive privacy practices, slow down your website, and can provide a poor customer experience.
There's a downside to live chat widgets.
You know - those chat widgets that pop up on websites all over the net. Commonly used in modern-day SaaS companies, these chat widgets offer a direct line to a customer support agent (if you're lucky) or a chatbot (if you aren't).
Intercom, Drift and Crisp are some of the biggest players in the market. They are getting more and more popular since they offer a low-friction way to turn leads into customers through conversation.
Live chat can have benefits, but can also come with negatives. Let's look at a few of the not-so-obvious downsides of using one of these solutions.
They spy on you, track your location, and sell your data
The major chat widgets collect and sell a staggering amount of data. This can include your location, your internet & browsing history, your employment, and even personal identifiers like your driver's license and social security numbers.
Postal address, social security number, driver's license number, passport number, internet & browsing history, geolocation data
And a bit further down, they explicit call out they sell this data:
Drift may have sold, as defined in the CCPA, the following categories of data: Identifiers (#1); Personal information categories under the California Customer Records statute (Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.80(e)) (#2); Geolocation data (#7); and Professional or employment-related information (#9).
This may be only for the Drift website - and not the visitors to Drift's customers websites - but this may still be an indication of questionable privacy practices.
Drift isn't the only one with potentially invasive privacy practices. Intercom collects and uses a similar amount of data - including geoloation data, phone numbers and addresses. Intercom also mentions currently do not respond to "Do Not Track" signals - making it even more challenging to opt-out.
They impact your website's performance
The widgets can be large, and issue a large number of requests. Most widgets don't block the initial page load, but instead impact page performance by consuming bandwidth and increasing CPU usage.
Let's look at Drift. On initial page load, a website with Drift installed transferrs ~100kb over the wire. It also issues over 20 requests (including some specifically for tracking):
On a typical 3G connection, loading a Drift widget can take an additional ~1 second. An analysis by DebugBear found that it can take up to 10 seconds before the chat widget is displayed to your users.
Google recommends keeping pages under 500kb, and the number of requests under 50. Just by using Drift you're already up to 20% of Google's recommended page size, and 40% of the recommended number of requests. This leaves you a lot less wiggle-room for your actual webapp!
In modern times, with large single-page app web frameworks like React becoming the norm, page sizes are commonly becoming massive; but this is all the more reason to optimize whenever possible.
Shoutshare is just under 30kb, with a total of 1 network request.
They can annoy users
Live chat widgets rarely stay hidden until needed. Audio, popups, and blinking text are frequently used to get your attenton. This often has the opposite effect on users - you should be keeping them satisfied, not annoyed!
Let's look at an example.
Here's what a website looks like with the intercom widget on an iPhone 5. This is with no interaction - this happens as soon as you visit the page:
This takes up nearly half your page - and the support agents aren't even available to reply! This leads well into the next point...
They may offer a poor customer experience
We no longer live in a world where customers live nearby or work on a 9-5 schedule.
As a result, it's not enough to only have support agents available during these hours only!
One of the largest benefits of live chat is exactly that - live chat. If your customers are greeted with a "Sorry, we aren't here right now!" message most of the time, you're giving them a poor experience.
Shoutshare offers a passive way of getting feedback from your customers . You can embed support widgets directly on your website.